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The value of a protest

D. Keith Robinson wrote about political expression, in a posting to his site called “Don’t Label me.” A portion of it is excepted here, and is followed by my slightly edited response (the original is can be seen in the comments at his site):

A friend and I got into a moral discussion about the WTO riots that happened here in Seattle a few years back. He was a part of the riots and I was an innocent by-standard [sic].…

[H]e pointed his…beliefs… at people who were just trying to get on with their day — you know, trying to work. I’ve got a problem with this. One that, whenever I talk to someone who has some kind of moral, or political agenda, they just don’t get.

Despite having attended many public protests (and marches and strikes) myself, I have mixed feelings about them and regularly ask myself whether the ends truly justify the means?

One the one hand, I often participant in such protests; on the other, I’m acutely aware that they are, in reality, a form of performance art — or a media hack — designed to attract the attention of the mass media.

Unfortunately, it’s often the only effective way to get an alternate view presented on a one-way medium such as television. Granted, events like the WTO protest in Seattle Keith cited typically don’t excel at convincing non-participants, but they generally succeed in creating informed discourse after the fact.

(Other forms of protest, such as anti-war or civil-rights marches are also designed to let people know others share their views, too. The end goal of both is to encourage a policy shift.)

After “Seattle,” most of North America (if not the developed world) knew about the WTO and IMF and what they do, and, in turn, globalization became a viable topic for mainstream debate. The ramifications of globalization remained a key issue until terrorism overwhelmed the public consciousness.

Did the end justify the sometimes ugly means of the WTO protests? Taken as a whole, I’d say yes. Others may say no. Thankfully, I, like most readings this, live in societies where we are able to freely voice our disagreements.